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Dr. Kestner:Experiencing chronic pain? You could be lacking essential vitamin D

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A few years ago I was having a conversation with a friend who is a medical professional. He is a specialist with advanced training in human physiology. I mentioned vitamin and mineral supplements. “Oh, I don’t take vitamins,” he said. “People get all the nutrition they need from their diet. Those supplements are just marketing baloney.”

I happened to know the man has a beautiful home with lush landscaping that he takes great pride in. I asked him what he used on his plants to obtain such exceptional healthy growth and blooms. “I use a product called ____ ____! It really helps my plants stay healthy and resist disease.”

I then asked him what was in the product that was so effective. “It has the right balance of minerals and compounds that supports plant growth and boosts their immune systems.”

“Sounds like you are giving your plants a vitamin and mineral supplement,” I observed. “Why would that not make sense for people?”

He grinned. “Well, I can see the difference in my plants. I guess if people had leaves and blooms, it would be more obvious that vitamins and minerals make a difference.”

This professional is not unique in his views of nutritional supplements. While there are many expert researchers that point to the need for supplementing today’s diet with vitamins, minerals and other important compounds, there are still doubters in the clinical world.

Opinions about vitamin D are varied as well. Once it was more or less accepted that most people have adequate vitamin D to avoid deficiency. Although there are few foods that are naturally abundant in vitamin D (with exception of cod liver oil), it is added to many foods, most notably milk. In addition, your body actually synthesizes vitamin D when you are exposed to sunlight.

Many of us encounter much less exposure to sunlight than we did years ago. We are spending less time outdoors and covering up when we are out. Those of us over 50 years old also face a decreasing ability of the skin to transform sunlight into vitamin D as we age.

If I were to ask what vitamin D is useful for in your body, you would likely respond correctly that it is necessary to build strong bones. That is the most widely known action of vitamin D.

Besides leading to osteoporosis and fractures, low levels of vitamin D have been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, elevated blood pressure, increased cancer and diabetes risk, increased infections, multiple sclerosis and mental disorders. Recently, some doctors have begun prescribing high doses of vitamin D as a possible solution for patients with chronic pain. This treatment is inexpensive and shows considerable promise.

In June of this year, the American Medical Association called for a review of the current dietary recommendations for vitamin D. They suggested that recent scientific research showed that an increase in vitamin D levels was probably appropriate for most consumers. Also in June, two different issues of “Archives of Internal Medicine” linked low levels of vitamin D to increased risk of heart attack and double the risk of death from all causes. Clearly, vitamin D is a vitally important factor in health. Prolonged deficiency can have serious consequences.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it can be stored in the body’s tissues. This means that it is theoretically possible to consume too much vitamin D and develop toxicity. This is not likely, however. Recent research indicates that a person is far more likely to be deficient than to ever consume enough to risk toxicity. Each person is unique, however, so to avoid this and other risks it is important to work with your doctor and consider a blood test to measure your vitamin D levels.

This is not the last word on the importance of vitamin D to your health. Watch for more news. I expect the revised Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) to increase (possibly double or more) for Vitamin D within a year.

Next week I’ll have some additional news about nutrition that may be related to chronic pain. Until then, get outside and make some vitamin D!

Dr. Mark Kestner
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